Writer’s block can come on at any time. I’ve been feeling it, and the irony of it all is that my topic for this post is barriers. By definition, barriers prevent movement. Writer’s block has definitely been blocking forward progress on this post, and when I sat back to think about why I’m feeling blocked, I realized I was trying to be too crafty in my approach; I was so focused on finding an eloquent manner of phrasing my sentences and making unique info-graphics, that the point of breaking down the types of barriers that you might see at work, was lost.
I had created a massive barrier out of something that didn’t make sense relative to my purpose. I created a stylized barrier that suited a goal to be different, when the actual purpose didn’t require different, it required reality. That’s when I came upon the idea to approach this post from the simple point of view that no matter what kind of barrier you’re up against, seeing them for what they are can make a big difference between overcoming them quickly or building them up to need a Herculean effort to move them aside.
Developing skills to characterize barriers and help remove them is a leadership skill. Often, we hear that “management” has accountability to remove barriers at work. That doesn’t always need to be the case! Many barriers can be worked out right in the moment, and you can use your leader voices to help.
Here’s some common barriers that you’ve likely seen at work and some ideas to work through them. The keys are in active listening, keeping the purpose/goal of the issue/project in the forefront, and asking good questions.
Misunderstanding/lack of knowledge. These can be easy to spot. Team members might say things like “I don’t see how that will work” or “What does that have to do with our project” or “I can’t present that to my customer.” Often, misunderstandings arise from lack of knowledge or having a slightly different definition of something. Take time to listen for key words or phrases indicating confusion, and even look for body language. Ask clarifying questions to get to the core of the misunderstanding; once the root is clear, the path to close the gap will be evident.
Cultural. Organizations with global teams will come across this from time to time. What is not important in one culture, might be very important in another culture. Listen to which topics are points of contention. In my experience, job titles became a hot topic in one project which helped us see that titles mattered more in one culture than another. We got through that by having each region decide their own job titles for a role that has similar descriptions globally.
Language. English is a common language for business all over the globe, and for those who don’t have English as their first language, meetings and communication can be tricky. Sayings, cheeky phrases, or slang does not always translate, so instead choose words and sentences that focus on facts. When new terms are introduced, offer examples or similarities already known to the teams to help bridge the language gaps. Speak slower, reduce use of adjectives and superlatives, and when in virtual meetings that use a chat feature, keep its use to a minimum; the speed at which chats happen can be very confusing, even stressful, and detract from the meeting.
Systems/process hiccups. There are big process breakdowns, and there are tiny blips…and any hiccup in this range can quickly bring a seemingly stable process to its knees. These can be anything from an unplanned plant shutdown to a printer jam. My focus here is on the systems/process hiccups that interfere with your business transactions. Invoices didn’t print? Can’t upload something? Pricing calculations seem off? Can’t log into your network? As technology increasingly drives our business transactions, we all need to learn a little bit about how things work in order to best assess a situation, then determine the course of action. Get to know the software product owners in your organization, and be certain you understand when to call the IT Helpdesk vs when to reach out to product owners. If your process is mission critical and has an alternative, consider using that until the primary process is reinstated.
Staffing. This is a significant topic that I’ll touch on lightly. Way, way back when, staffing was a problem of manpower; if there was more work than there were people to do it, most organizations would simply increase their headcount. Today, staffing barriers are looked at through an organizational design lens. Do we have the right people in the right roles? Are the roles designed correctly? Are we embarking on a technological transformation that requires skills we don’t have? Are there things we can simply stop doing to free up time and resources? Think about your own work, your teams, and your department goals. What ideas do you have to automate, what can you reduce or stop doing, what needed skills can you add to your development plan?
Mindsets. This is another significant topic. Consider my own writer’s block with this post; my mindset alone created the barrier. I had the tools, resources, time…I simply put up a mindset barrier that paralyzed progress. How about at your workplace; have you noticed that even the smallest amount of fear, lack of confidence, worry, or lack of experience can creep in, creating a barrier for progress? Adopting a growth mindset can help, as will being open and calling your barrier what it is. Lead with humility and respectfully express any hesitations you feel about something you are doing. A little bit of openness now can prevent a mountain of barriers later.
Time. Oh, what a barrier time can be! Not enough time to do this, barely enough time to do that. I recall feeling overwhelmed having to work on a new global report that required consolidating multiple reports into one. My initial reaction was about not having enough time…and it turns out, the real root of the barrier was not knowing how to use the report program properly. I lacked knowledge! Asking the right questions to a subject matter expert led to the immediate crumble of the false time barrier, and that knowledge made other reports easier, which freed up more time! When you feel time is your barrier, start asking yourself questions about how the goal can be accomplished, instead of what the goal is. Also consider if you’ve got work that no longer holds value; can you stop doing something to free up time? You might find your perceived barrier of time is disguised as another of the barriers above.
Barriers will always be part of work and life, and I’m sure there are many more that aren’t mentioned here. As they come up, approach them with an open mind. See them for what they are, before they are exaggerated and derail progress. Effective leaders call barriers what they are. They catch them before they become larger than necessary, or when false barriers are put up that distract individuals or teams from their actual purpose and goal. Use your leader voice within yourself and in collaboration with others to work out root causes of barriers and reinstate forward progress.
Lead on, everyone!
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